March 24, 2004

Flash — Click to View

I’ve never been much a fan of Flash. These days in particular, it seems to be mostly used for ads on the web. But, there are occasional uses for it (mushroom mushroom comes to mind).

Now you can have your Flash and eat it too. As a spin-off from bug 94035 (“Allow blocking of any media type”), Jesse Ruderman wrote some code to cover Flash elements with a “Click to Play” box. And, from there Ted Mielczarek packaged that into a handy XPI browser extension for Mozilla & Firefox.

Once installed, each Flash element in a page will be covered with an unobtrusive gray box labeled “Click to Play”. If you want to view that Flash, just click the box. I’ve found that this browser extension makes Flash much more palatable since I only view the Flash elements that I want to see. And, because it installs to your profile directory, you don't have to reinstall it each time you upgrade Mozilla.

Feb. 20, 2004

Automated Layout Testing in Mozilla

Robert O’Callahan came up with a handy idea for Mozilla QCautomated layout regression testing. Based on an idea implemented by Ian “Hixie” Hickson for Opera, this would automatically test the daily Mozilla builds for new layout bugs.

At first, I couldn’t figure out how such a task could be automated. After reading over the planned outline, I realized that it was a rather elegant approach. In short, the script (Perl, in this case) would keep a set of known-good screenshots of various layout tests. Then, on each day, the script would the build through the series of tests, taking screenshots along the way. At that point, it would just be a matter of doing file comparisons between the known-good screenshots and those from that day.

The code isn’t yet complete, but it’s moving forward. The trickly parts are in dealing with unruly builds (as you may have guessed). For instance, if that day’s build crashes on one of the tests, then the script would need to detect that, kill the process and then restart Mozilla for the next test sequence. In all, I have a good feeling about this development.

Jan. 1, 2004

Camino — Almost Had It

When computing, I like a consistent user interface. When on Windows, I want Windows-widgets and when on Mac I want Mac-widgets :). And, for the most part, I haven’t had problems of that nature. But, Mozilla Firebird on Mac OS has always bugged me a little bit. It’s a great browser, of course, but it has its own widget set. For example, select pulldowns (as you might find for a State on a form) have a pull-down arrow and scrollbars — just as you’d find on Windows.

So, at a New Years get-together last night, Ru whipped out his 12" PowerBook to show us one of his favorite Flash movies (Cow Bondage, FWIW) and I noticed that his browser had all the native Mac widgets! After a quick glance to the menubar, I noticed that he was running Camino. I had heard of Camino before — a browser with the Gecko rendering engine along with a Mac-tastic interface — but I had assumed that development dwindled once Firebird came about.

As it turns out, the Camino project is alive and well. So, I downloaded the latest Camino nightly and gave it a try just now. I loaded it up and it was like putting on an old pair of shoes that fit in all the right places. I had all my familiar widgets and I was ready to make the browser transition from Firebird. But, trouble soon began to seep in…

I first checked the Windows menu for the DOM Inspector but I couldn’t find it. Not that regular web surfers have much need for such a tool, but I find it an indespensible resource for web development. So, I can perhaps understand why the Camino team omitted it from their project, but I was still a bit bummed about that.

I checked for tabbed-browsing and, sure enough, it has there (Apple-T opened a new tab, just like Firebird). And, all the familiar keyboard shortcuts worked as well (such as Apple-L to load the URL bar). But, Camino didn’t react to the right mouse button as I expected. I right-cliked on the Back button and only got a context menu for configuring the toolbar (not a list of sites that I could go back to).

I really wanted to like Camino, but it just didn’t feel right to me. Sure, maybe I could find some work-around to the Back-button right-click bit, but there’d still be the DOM Inspector issue. And, now that Firebird has DOM Inspector built-in, there’s not much of an incentive for anyone to create a DOM Inspector browser extension either.

My best bet may be a matter of getting native widgets into Firebird instead of trying to get all of Firebird’s functionality into Camino :-/. But, I don’t have my hopes up about that either; a quick search of Bugzilla for “widget” bugs on Mac OS didn't come up with anything useful. Perhaps there’re no plans to make use of native Mac widgets on Firebird — maybe the Firebird developers perceive that Camino has filled that role.

Dec. 28, 2003

Spellchecker Wonky in Mozilla

If you keep up with the Mozilla nightly builds, you may find that the spellchecker has gone a bit wonky. Since approximately from the 22nd, the spellchecker no longer recognizes capitalized versions of words already in its dictionary. For instance, if you start a sentence with “The”, “This” or “So”, it'll think you've misspelled the word.

You can still add the word to its dictionary and it won't bother you about that one again, but this is enough of an annoyance to me that I don’t think I’ll be downloading the nightlies for the next couples days until this one is fixed. And, it looks like it should be fixed soon — there’s already a patch awaiting approval :).

Nov. 18, 2003

Spellchecker for Firebird Browser

The Mozilla Suite and Mozilla Thunderbird have had a built-in spellchecker for a little while now. And someone came up with the idea of using the spellchecker for with form fields (input boxes and textareas). But, for the most part, the feature request languished.

However, a guy named Torisugari has come up with a workable setup (for both Mozilla Firebird and Mozilla Suite). As mentioned in the Firebird forums, he’s created an XPI browser extension that makes use of the existing spellchecker libraries adds a spellcheck option to context menus for input fields and textareas.

The links to download are included in Torisugari’s forum posts and, if this feature interests you, I’d recommend reading the whole thread (or at least skipping to the end) since the later posts point to more recent versions of the extension.

And, as a bonus for Torisugari, he may end up with some money from this — there's a SourceSupport bounty for adding this feature (SourceSupport is a site where users can pledge towards feature requests and new software). It currently stands at $42.84 and I’m tempted to chip in myself.

Nov. 12, 2003

Mozilla Firebird — Now with DOM Inspector!

The DOM Inspector was checked in to the Mozilla Firebird trunk today and it should appear in tomorrow’s nightly builds. For those not aware, the DOM Inspector is the ultra-useful browser extension for — among other things — analyzing CSS within a webpage. For instance, you can select an element on a page and the DOM Inspector can tell you how the document’s CSS rules cascaded to produce that element’s styling.

I’m really stoked about this check-in since the missing DOM Inspector was one of the few things holding me back from Mozilla Firebird. Now if I can just get URLs from Thunderbird to open in a new Firebird tab, I’ll be all set :). And, some say that there’s a solution to the open-new-tabs issue as well.

I don't doubt that switching to Firebird/Thunderbird is a Good Idea(tm), but I'm still unsure when the development team will officially make the switch. Reading over the roadmap, they say that “[it’s] clear now that we will not be able to switch to Mozilla Firebird by the Mozilla 1.5 final milestone” — but they don't elaborate on when they expect that switch might be :-/.

Update 11-13: I’ve discovered that Firebird still doesn’t have inline autocomplete in the location bar (URL bar). Bummer.

Aug. 6, 2003

Mozilla — Now with Spellchecker!

Thanks to bug 56301 being fixed recently, the latest builds of Mozilla now include the spellchecker built right in (it used to be that you’d have to install the spellchecker separately). I’m really pleased about this since it’s not only one less step that I have to go through each day (yeah, I upgrade Mozilla every day), but it also means that the spellchecker’s reliability is now tied to the core Mozilla development (I’ll explain).

When the spellchecker existed as a separate plugin, it had no association with the Mozilla team. So, if the spellchecker stopped working, you’d just be stuck without a spellchecker until the spellchecker guys got around to fixing it (which could sometimes last for months on end). Now that’s it’s integrated with Mozilla, if the spellchecker breaks, the core Mozilla team will work towards fixing it. And, even better, the spellchecker won’t check quoted text anymore either.

March 24, 2003

Smooth Scrolling in Mozilla

Smooth scrolling has been implemented in Mozilla. To see it in action, just download a recent nightly build and add this line to your prefs.js file (while Mozilla isn’t running).

user_pref("general.smoothScroll", true);

If you’re not familiar with the feature, smooth scrolling slides text up pixel-by-pixel during a scroll, instead of a chunk at a time (IE also has this feature). This didn’t initially sound very useful to me, either, but this thead on the gtk-devel-list (for GTK development with Linux) conveys that smooth scrolling allows for scrolling & reading the text at the same time.

Sure enough, smooth scrolling does make it easier to scroll and read text in quick succession. The physics of the current implementation isn’t perfect yet (gravity, velocity, and so on), but I still consider it an improvement over regular scrolling.